[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 91 (Friday, May 10, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27427-27430]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-11226]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

[MMAA104000]


Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Geological and Geophysical 
Exploration Activities in the Gulf of Mexico

AGENCY: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Intent; Notice of Scoping Meetings; and Request for 
Scoping Comments.

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SUMMARY: Pursuant to the regulations implementing (National 
Environmental Policy Act) (NEPA), and subject to available funding, 
BOEM is announcing the intent to prepare a Programmatic Environmental 
Impact Statement (PEIS) to evaluate potential environmental effects of 
multiple geological and geophysical (G&G) activities in OCS waters of 
the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), extending from the coastline to the seaward 
boundary of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), including the GOM OCS. 
The PEIS will be prepared cooperatively with NMFS to serve as the 
requisite environmental analysis under NEPA for the National Marine 
Fisheries Service's (NMFS) Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) 
rulemaking governing authorization for unintentional marine mammal 
takes during G&G activities in GOM waters. It will also provide 
information for future decisions regarding Outer Continental Shelf 
Lands Act (OCSLA) permit and MMPA authorization actions, in addition to 
informing consultations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), and 
other statutes. By this document, BOEM announces: The intention to 
prepare a PEIS; commencement of the scoping process under NEPA; a 
request for public comment on the scope of the PEIS; times, dates and 
locations for public scoping meetings; and a request for other Federal 
Agencies, and State, Tribal, and local governments to consider becoming 
cooperating agencies in the preparation of the PEIS.

DATES: Comments should be submitted no later than June 24, 2013. For 
specific meeting dates and more information on submitting comments, see 
ADDRESSES.

ADDRESSES: The following public scoping meetings are planned for the 
PEIS:
     Tampa, Florida: Monday, June 10, 2013, Embassy Suites 
Westshore Tampa Airport Hotel, 555 North Westshore Boulevard, Tampa, 
Florida 33609; one meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. EDT;
     Fort Walton Beach, Florida: Tuesday, June 11, 2013, Ramada 
Plaza Beach Resort, 1500 Miracle Strip Parkway SE., Fort Walton Beach, 
Florida 32548; one meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. CDT;
     Mobile, Alabama: Wednesday, June 12, 2013, Government 
Plaza, 205 Government Street, Mobile, Alabama 36644; one meeting 
beginning at 6:30 p.m. CDT;
     Gulfport, Mississippi: Thursday, June 13, 2013, Courtyard 
by Marriott Gulfport Beachfront MS Hotel, 1600 East Beach Boulevard, 
Gulfport, Mississippi 39501; one meeting beginning at 6:30 p.m. CDT;
     Galveston, Texas: Monday, June 17, 2013, Galveston Hilton, 
5400 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, Texas 77551; one meeting beginning 
at 6:30 p.m. CDT;
     New Orleans, Louisiana: Wednesday, June 19, 2013, Bureau 
of Ocean Energy Management, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, 
Louisiana 70123; one meeting beginning at 1 p.m. CDT;
     Silver Spring, Maryland: Thursday, June 20, 2013, National 
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1305 East-West Highway, Silver 
Spring, Maryland 20910; one meeting beginning at 1:00 p.m. EDT.
    Comments: Statements, both oral and written, will be received at 
the scoping meetings. All persons wishing to speak will have an 
opportunity to do so. Time limits may be set on speakers to allow time 
for all speakers to participate. In addition, background information 
will be provided by BOEM and NMFS on the Federal compliance processes 
related to this Proposed Action.
    In lieu of participation in the scoping meetings listed above, 
Federal, State, and local government agencies and other interested 
parties, including members of the public, may submit written comments 
on the scope of the PEIS, significant issues that should be addressed, 
alternatives that should be considered, and the types of G&G activities 
and geographical areas of interest on Federal and State waters of the 
GOM. Comments will also be shared with NMFS.
    Comments may be submitted in one of the following three ways:
    1. In written form enclosed in an envelope labeled ``Comments on 
Scoping for the Gulf of Mexico G&G PEIS'' and mailed (or hand carried) 
to Mr. Gary D. Goeke, Chief, Regional Assessment Section, Office of 
Environment (MS 5410), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Gulf of 
Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 
70123-2394; or
    2. Electronically to the BOEM email address: gomggeis@boem.gov.
    3. Through the regulations.gov web portal: Navigate to http://www.regulations.gov and search for ``Geological and Geophysical 
Exploration Activities on Federal and State Waters of the Gulf of 
Mexico'' (Note: It is important to include the quotation marks in your 
search terms.) Click on the ``Comment Now!'' button to the right of the 
document link. Enter your information and comment, then click 
``Submit''.
    Public Disclosure of Names and Addresses: Before including your 
address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying 
information in your comment, be advised that your entire comment, 
including your personal identifying

[[Page 27428]]

information, may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold from public review your personal 
identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do 
so.
    For further information regarding the GOM G&G PEIS, please visit 
our Web site at: http://www.boem.gov/GOM-G-G-PEIS/

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For information on this notice or the 
public scoping meetings, please contact Ms. Beth Nord, Bureau of Ocean 
Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park 
Boulevard (GM 623E), New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394, telephone (504) 
736-2995. For information on BOEM's policies associated with this 
notice, please contact Mr. Gary Goeke, Section Chief, Regional 
Assessment Section, Office of Environment (GM 623E), Bureau of Ocean 
Energy Management, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region, 1201 Elmwood Park 
Boulevard, New Orleans, Louisiana 70123-2394, telephone (504) 736-3233. 
For information on NMFS' policies associated with this notice, please 
contact Mr. Howard Goldstein, Office of Protected Resources, National 
Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, 
telephone (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Scoping is the initial step in the NEPA 
process. BOEM will fully comply with all pertinent laws, rules, and 
regulations and will allow the public an adequate opportunity to 
participate in the NEPA process, including scoping meetings and public 
comment periods. The publication of this NOI initiates the scoping 
process and 45-day scoping comment period for this PEIS. The public 
scoping meetings will be held during this 45-day timeframe. The 
activities considered within this PEIS are associated with GOM OCS oil 
and gas exploration and development, siting for potential renewable 
energy projects, and marine minerals extraction; they could take place 
over a period of up to ten years. The purpose of the scoping meetings 
will be to provide stakeholders with more information on the Federal 
compliance processes related to the proposed actions, and solicit 
comments on the scope of the PEIS. Under the Proposed Action, BOEM 
proposes to issue permits to conduct G&G activities under OCSLA and 
NMFS proposes to promulgate regulations under the MMPA that establish a 
framework for issuing letters of authorization for the unintentional 
take of marine mammals incidental to G&G activities in GOM waters.
    Through the scoping process, Federal, State and local government 
agencies and other interested parties have the opportunity to assist in 
determining the significant issues and alternatives for analysis in the 
PEIS, and developing the scope of the PEIS. This early planning and 
consultation step is important to ensure all interests and concerns are 
communicated to BOEM and NMFS as the PEIS is developed.
    Background: A variety of G&G techniques are used to characterize 
the geological structure of the OCS slope and deepwater ocean 
environments. Geological and geophysical surveys are conducted to: (1) 
Obtain data for hydrocarbon exploration and production; (2) aid in 
siting renewable energy structures; (3) locate potential sand and 
gravel resources; (4) identify possible seafloor or shallow depth 
geologic hazards; and (5) locate potential archaeological resources and 
potential hard bottom habitats for avoidance. The selection of a 
specific G&G technique or suite of techniques is driven by data needs 
and the target of interest. The following types of G&G activities will 
be included in the PEIS: (1) Various types of deep penetration seismic 
airgun surveys used almost exclusively for oil and gas exploration and 
development; (2) other types of surveys and sampling activities used 
only in support of oil and gas exploration and development, including 
electromagnetic surveys, deep stratigraphic and shallow test drilling, 
and various remote sensing methods; (3) high-resolution geophysical 
(HRG) surveys used in three program areas (oil and gas, renewable 
energy, and marine minerals) to detect geohazards, archaeological 
resources, and certain types of benthic communities; and (4) geological 
and geotechnical bottom sampling used in all three program areas to 
assess the suitability of seafloor sediments for supporting structures 
(e.g., platforms, pipelines, cables, wind turbines) or to evaluate the 
quantity and quality of sand for beach nourishment projects.
    The GOM OCS area that will be analyzed within the GOM G&G PEIS is 
illustrated in Figure 1 as the GOM Western, Central, and Eastern 
Planning Areas. This Area of Interest (AOI) includes State waters and 
extends from the coastline (excluding estuaries) through Federal waters 
of the OCS out to the seaward boundary of the EEZ.

[[Page 27429]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TN10MY13.008

    The PEIS will evaluate the environmental impacts to resources in 
Federal and State waters of the GOM resulting from G&G activities 
taking place either exclusively in Federal waters or in both Federal 
and State waters (but not exclusively in State waters), subject to BOEM 
and NMFS regulatory authority that may be proposed over a period of up 
to ten years. While State waters are not within BOEM's jurisdiction, 
NMFS has jurisdiction and permitting authority in both Federal and 
State waters. The AOI encompasses adjacent State waters for three 
reasons: (1) NMFS requires an assessment of potential impacts to 
resources under its jurisdiction; (2) G&G activities under all three 
program areas (oil and gas, renewable energy, and marine minerals) 
could include survey areas that include Federal and State waters; and 
(3) the potential adverse effects associated with G&G activities 
introduced into the environment during OCS G&G surveys could affect 
resources in State waters. Surveys occurring exclusively in State 
waters are not considered in the scope of this PEIS.
    The PEIS is intended to serve as the primary NEPA environmental 
analysis to support future OCSLA and MMPA permitting decisions. 
However, should BOEM or NMFS determine there is a need to develop a 
future site-specific analysis, e.g., an EIS or environmental assessment 
for a particular G&G activity, the PEIS would serve as a reference 
document to implement the ``tiering'' objective detailed in NEPA's 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1502.20). The proposed G&G activities 
include, but are not limited to, deep-penetration and high resolution 
seismic surveys, electromagnetic surveys, magnetic surveys, gravity 
surveys, remote sensing surveys, marine vibrator surveys, and 
geological and geochemical sampling. These activities would provide 
information about the location and extent of oil and gas reserves, 
bottom conditions for oil and gas or renewable energy installations, 
and suitable locations of marine minerals off the Gulf coast of the 
U.S. Up-to-date and state-of-the-art G&G data and information are 
required for business decisions in furtherance of prospecting for OCS 
oil and gas in an orderly manner, assessing sites for renewable energy 
facilities, or developing marine mineral resources.
    The alternatives that will be analyzed in the PEIS have not been 
finalized yet. The alternatives will include the Proposed Action (BOEM 
proposes to issue permits to conduct G&G activities under OCSLA and 
NMFS proposes to engage in a rulemaking under the MMPA and issue 
letters of authorization to allow the unintentional marine mammal takes 
during G&G activities in GOM waters), the No Action Alternative, and 
other alternatives that may include (but are not limited to) variations 
on the Proposed Action involving monitoring and mitigation measures and 
restrictions. The public is invited to suggest additional alternatives, 
including mitigation and monitoring measures, for our agencies' 
consideration and possible inclusion in the PEIS (40 CFR 1508.22(a)).
    In conjunction with the preparation of the PEIS, the BOEM has asked 
NMFS to complete MMPA rulemaking for incidental take (by harassment) of 
marine mammal species in the GOM as a result of G&G survey from oil and 
gas activities. Under the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1371; 50 CFR Subpart 216), 
the taking of marine mammals without a permit or exemption from NMFS is 
prohibited. The PEIS will be prepared cooperatively with NMFS to 
provide the necessary documentation under NEPA to support decisions 
regarding future OCSLA permit and MMPA authorization actions, in 
addition to complying with other statutes such as the ESA and the 
MSFCMA.
    In the interim, BOEM continues to review proposed G&G seismic 
activities and non-commercial sand and gravel prospecting activities. 
BOEM issues permits for G&G seismic activities and provides 
authorization for non-commercial sand search (marine minerals program) 
only after these activities have been evaluated under NEPA and reviewed 
following interim project-specific consultation procedures under the 
ESA between BOEM and NMFS.
    More information on G&G activities can be found on pages 13-15 of 
BOEM's Leasing Oil and Natural Gas Resources: Outer Continental Shelf 
(see http://www.boem.gov/search-results.aspx?q=GreenBook-LeasingDocument.pdf+ and BOEM's

[[Page 27430]]

Geological and Geophysical Exploration for Mineral Resources on the 
Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf: Final Programmatic 
Environmental Assessment (see http://www.boem.gov/Oil-and-Gas-Energy-Program/GOMR/2004-054.aspx).
    Cooperating Agency: BOEM invites other Federal agencies and State, 
Tribal, and local governments to consider becoming cooperating agencies 
in the preparation of the PEIS. We invite qualified government entities 
to inquire about cooperating agency status for the PEIS. Following the 
guidelines from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), qualified 
agencies and governments are those with ``jurisdiction by law'' or 
``special expertise.'' Potential cooperating agencies should consider 
their authority and capacity to assume the responsibilities of a 
cooperating agency, and note that an agency's role in the environmental 
analysis neither enlarges nor diminishes the final decision making 
authority of any other agency involved in the NEPA process. Upon 
request, BOEM will provide potential cooperating agencies with a 
written summary of ground rules for cooperating agencies, including 
time schedules and critical action dates, milestones, responsibilities, 
scope and detail of cooperating agencies' contributions, and the 
availability of pre-decisional information. BOEM anticipates this 
summary will form the basis for a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). 
Agencies should also consider the ``Factors for Determining Cooperating 
Agency Status'' in Attachment 1 to CEQ's January 30, 2002, Memorandum 
for the Heads of Federal Agencies: Cooperating Agencies in Implementing 
the Procedural Requirements of the NEPA. A copy of this document is 
available at:http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/regs/cooperating/cooperatingagenciesmemorandum.html and/or http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/regs/cooperating/cooperatingagencymemofactors.html BOEM and NMFS, as 
co-agencies, will not provide financial assistance to any other 
cooperating agencies. Even if an organization is not an official 
cooperating agency, opportunities exist to provide information and 
comments during the normal public input phases of the NEPA/PEIS 
process. If further information about cooperating agencies is needed, 
please contact Mr. Gary Goeke at (504) 736-3233.

    Authority:  42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., 43 U.S.C. 1331-1356a, 16 
U.S.C. 1361 et seq., 40 CFR 1501.7

    Dated: May 6, 2013.
Tommy P. Beaudreau,
Director, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
[FR Doc. 2013-11226 Filed 5-9-13; 8:45 am]
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